No, I don’t mean ignore them and let them set the paper towels in the kitchen on fire as some kind of "learning experience." I'm talking about ignoring your children when they come to you and complain, "I'm BORED!"
Too often these days, helicopter parenting prevails and we want to plan our child's day down to the last minute. Pinterest is full of "keep your kid busy" activities and crafts to make sure there’s no downtime. I’ve also seen post after post about "beating boredom" with your kids over the summer or on snow days.
Well, I'm here to tell you to close that Pinterest board and ignore the articles because, in reality, boredom is extremely good for kids.
Boredom enhances creativity.
When children are bored, they have to use their imaginations to figure out what to do. Their blocks aren’t going to build by themselves. Their stuffed animals won’t talk unless the child gives them their voices. Neighborhood games don’t organize without some imagination. According to Dr. Teresa Belton, a visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia's School of Education and Lifelong Learning, boredom is just the "sort of thing that stimulates the imagination."
Boredom is also vital to mastering a skill, such as a sport or a musical instrument. Associate Professor Jal Mehta of Harvard University states that there is such a thing as necessary boredom: "If you want to be a great violinist, you've got to practice your scales. You want to play basketball? You’ve got to shoot your free throws.”
Our children need quiet time to discover who they are and what their true interests and dreams are.
Boredom encourages self-motivation.
"Mom, I'm bored," your child says.
"OK, so what are you going to do about it?" you respond.
Don't provide the activity or the antidote. If your child is bored enough, this will light a fire inside of them to ease that boredom. Dr. Michael Ungar of Psychology Today asserts, "A motivated child is one who is raised to seek new experiences, not one who is endlessly protected from boredom." Giving your child the opportunity to cope with their own boredom encourages them to self-motivate and accept responsibility for their own well-being and mental state.
Boredom encourages independence.
Our society places heavy emphasis on people understanding who they "really are" and what makes them tick. How are kids supposed to do this if they never have a free second to sit down and listen to themselves? Our children need quiet time to discover who they are and what their true interests and dreams are.
Psychologist Vanessa Lapointe says, "Children need to sit in the nothingness of boredom in order to arrive at an understanding of who they are." Boredom gives kids a quiet time for introspection to evaluate what’s important to them in life.
The true "boredom fixer" is to provide an environment where children have the independence to choose and control what they’d like to do to alleviate their own boredom, an environment that presents them with challenges and lets them motivate themselves intrinsically.
Boredom encourages positive social interaction.
If your child says they’re bored, tell them to go out and find someone to play with! Of course, not all of us grew up in an idyllic small town where children play pickup games of kickball in the vacant lot next to the local hair salon, but encourage your child to pick up the phone and make themselves a play date or arrange to meet at a playground. This helps them develop interpersonal skills and more of that lovely intrinsic motivation.
Psychiatrist Dr. Holan Liang notes, "In a world where children’s cries of boredom are immediately met with an externally provided solution, we may be inadvertently teaching our children that boredom is intolerable and that pestering someone in authority is the solution." Nobody wants their child to grow up and be "that guy" or "that lady" at work who needs to be spoon-fed what to do with every hour of the day. How to manage one's own time and how to properly interact with others, from peers to people of authority, are vital life skills that kids who are never, ever bored will not learn.
By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that boredom is beneficial. The next step is to schedule in some "boredom" time for your child. Carve a hole in your busy schedule and allow your little ones the time they need to develop independence, social skills and so many other valuable life skills. One last word of warning: During boredom time, ban the screens. Too much time for our kids is "sit and get," or absorbing the creative pursuits of others. It's time for them to become the creators. As Dr. Belton concludes, "For the sake of creativity, perhaps we need to slow down and stay offline from time to time."